Research Awards and Grants (December 2019)

Title: Comprehensive Christmas Tree Management Using Drones

PI: Owen, Jeffrey

Direct Sponsor: NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

Amount Awarded: $122,800

Abstract: Christmas tree growers are keenly interested in the potential of new technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s also known as drones) with the potential to complete tasks more efficiently and with less cost. This project will establish methods to remotely measure and inventory trees with the use of drones; will test the sensitivity of specific spectral indices to provide an indication of plant stress, pest infestation, or disease; will develop algorithms which can distinguish trees influenced by pests and pathogens from their healthy neighbors; and will assess pest presence using multispectral imagery obtained by drones. Experimental tests of an agricultural spray drone will be conducted in Christmas trees in comparison to conventional sprayers. Educational materials will be developed and used to transfer technology to Christmas tree growers. This project will rely on UAV equipment acquired through a Christmas Tree Promotion Board research grant. This project brings together foundational knowledge of Christmas tree production and unmanned aerial systems expertise from the Center for Geospatial Analytics at NC State University.


Title: Elongate Hemlock Scale and Fraser Fir

PI: Jetton, Robert

Direct Sponsor: NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

Amount Awarded: $122,800

Abstract: The Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University will conduct field, greenhouse and laboratory studies to improve our understanding of the ecology and management of the exotic insect pest Elongate Hemlock Scale in Fraser fir Christmas trees, one of North Carolina’s most important specialty crops. Although the scale typically causes little damage to Fraser fir, its presence on Christmas trees represents an important pathway by which this insect can spread to new areas where more susceptible host species might exist. When detected on Christmas trees entering states where the scale is not yet present, local regulatory agencies intercept and destroy the infested material. This causes detriment to the revenues and reputation of North Carolina’s Christmas tree industry. The results of this research will inform management recommendations to growers for reducing scale infestations and limiting the risk of future spread via infested Fraser fir. Outcomes will be reported to stakeholders through presentations at the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association (NCCTA), articles in Limbs and Needles (the official trade magazine of the NCCTA), and papers published in the scientific literature.


Title: Value of Flow Forecasts to Power System Analytics

PI: Kern, Jordan

Direct Sponsor: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Amount Awarded: $75,000

Abstract: Most hydropower utilities rely on external forecast products provided by NOAA River Forecast Centers and/or an additional source from private industry to support the scheduling of hydropower operations. The producers of these forecasts – NOAA, industry, and even in-house forecasters – do not have access to the dynamic energy prices (production cost models) or the electricity traders’ strategies to maximize revenue from utilization of the hydropower assets. Therefore, the group operating the reservoir is unable to assess the market value of their inflow forecasts, eliminating any ability to target forecast improvements to increase contributions of hydropower to electrical system needs. Both NOAA and industry have reached out to DOE WPTO to understand which inflow forecast products and accuracy levels would be needed to enhance the value of forecasts, from water management and marketed hydropower and grid resilience perspectives. We propose to use inflow forecast, reservoir and power system model simulations, and case studies to practically demonstrate where forecast improvements would create the most value for hydropower services. This research will benefit utilities and other hydropower operators who utilize flow forecasting to support water management and electricity production; it will also support DOE in targeting future investments related to forecasting that will benefit these groups.


Title: Biodegradable and Recyclable Paper-Based Alternative to Single-Use Beverage Plastic Products

PI: Lavoine, Nathalie

Direct Sponsor: Ohio State University

Amount Awarded: $14,960

Abstract: The overall objective of this research project is thus to investigate plasma treatment as an environmentally safe and more efficient technique to modify the surface chemistry of cellulose fibers.


Title: Catalytic Upgrading of Carbohydrates in Waste Streams to Hydrocarbons

PI: Park, Sunkyu

Direct Sponsor: US Dept. of Energy (DOE) – Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

Amount Awarded: $1,250,807 (this is the conditional funding)

Abstract:  The objective of this project is to demonstrate catalytic processes for upgrading carbohydrates to hydrocarbon biofuels using two low-cost wet organic waste streams: Papermaking sludge and Post-sorted municipal solid waste. The work is based on the previous success of hydrocarbon production from corn stover in a bench scale via dilute-acid and enzymatic deconstruction followed by dehydration to furans, condensation, and hydrodeoxygenation to hydrocarbons. The project team will develop (1) a sugar production process and a removal strategy of non-carbohydrates that could poison catalysts during the conversion process, (2) isomerization and dehydration processes necessary to convert both glucose and xylose to furans in a single reactor, (3) an upgrading process of furans via aldol condensation with ketone and hydrodeoxygenation to diesel range hydrocarbons, and (4) a detailed techno-economic analysis to integrate and optimize the overall process. The developed process in this project will be demonstrated in a relevant pilot-scale and life cycle assessment will be evaluated.


Title: The North Carolina Strategic Plan for Sustaining Military Readiness Through Conservation Partnerships

PI: Bardon, Robert

Direct Sponsor: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Amount Awarded: $206,782

Abstract: From its Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, North Carolina is rich in its wide-ranging landscape, its diverse population, and flourishing economy. With several grand metropolitan areas and cozy rural towns, the state offers the best of both urban living and small-town life. Currently, North Carolina is considered the 9th most populous state. If population predictions hold, the state will become the 7th most populous state by 2032. With population growth, comes increased urbanization and infrastructure development, a growing rural and urban interface, and encroachment on communities and areas that support and serve the state’s military installations. In an effort to establish a landscape scale approach to natural resources management that enriches compatible land use while minimizing multiple encroachment threats and alleviating on-installation constraints, North Carolina is looking to enhance its Eastern Sentinel Landscape to support flexibility for military readiness beyond 2060 while linking co-benefits of conservation and keeping working forests and farms, working.


Title: Prepare and Characterize Wood Treated with Silicates

PI: Kelley, Stephen

Direct Sponsor: T2Earth Holdings, LLC

Amount Awarded: $180,000

Abstract: This work covers the preparation and characterization of silicate treated wood samples. The goal of the work is to create wood products that are decay, insect and fire resistant but do not require the use of toxic chemicals.  The overall process can be divided into two steps, 1) Silicate Impregnation and 2) Silicate Curing. The impregnation step will focus on the time, pressure and temperature profile used to impregnate silicate solutions into woody of varying species and dimensions. The initial impregnation conditions will be based on information supplied by T2Earth through their background knowledge and their work with partners. The curing step involves the use either ‘dry’ or ‘wet’ curing of the silicate treated wood. Different pressures and gases may also be used in this step. The dry curing will emulate curing in an oven or traditional dry kiln, where there is no barrier to the rapid removal of moisture from the wood. The wet curing will investigate higher heat transfer to the silicate treated wood samples, or steps designed to initially retain moisture in the wood. The curing step is designed to enhance polymerization of the silicate with the goal of improving silica retention, and result in improved decay and fire resistance of the treated wood.  These samples will be characterized to determine the silicate concentration profile, retention of the silicate, and for a selected subset of the samples the chemical structure of the wood and silicate. These physical properties will be related to the process conditions.